Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Bourbon Street, New Orleans

  • Published 2023/08/05

The historic Bourbon Street in the heart of New OrleansFrench Quarter, well-known for its numerous pubs and strip clubs, extends 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue.

Bourbon Street dates back to 1718 when Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded New Orleans.

It was named after Rue Bourbon, the reigning French royal family then.

For many locals and visitors of New Orleans, Bourbon Street represents the energy and spirit of a party town and has become a destination for all kinds of revelry.

Bourbon Street has two sections: Upper Bourbon (close to Canal Street) and Lower Bourbon (close to Esplanade Street.)

Upper Bourbon is the most heavily visited section by tourists and is home to numerous restaurants, bars, gift stores, and strip clubs.

Meanwhile, Lower Bourbon serves the city’s growing gay culture.

Drawing millions of visitors annually, Bourbon Street offers a comprehensive glimpse into New Orleans’ past with its rich historic landmarks, iconic structures, and social tales.

Get ready to party, learn a part of history, and experience first-hand what makes this street famous!

Use this list of the best things to do in Bourbon Street, New Orleans, to help you.

Hang Out at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar

Exterior of Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

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Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, built by Nicolas Touze between 1722 and 1732, is the oldest establishment operated as a bar in the country.

The building and fence are constructed in the Briquette-Entre-Poteaux or Old French Provincial Louis XV style.

The property was considered Jean and Pierre Lafitte’s base in New Orleans for their Barataria smuggling business.

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is one of the many haunted locations in the French Quarter.

Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar is among many remarkable and historical spots on Bourbon Street.

Signage of Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

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Grab a Drink at the Old Absinthe House

People in front of the Old Absinthe House

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The Old Absinthe House pub has been a mainstay of life in the French Quarter for more than 200 years.

Situated on the corner of Rue Bienville and Rue Bourbon, the Old Absinthe House has a copper-topped bar counter where people enjoy their favorite drinks.

The Old Absinthe House is a famous white building first built by Francisco Juncadelia and Pedro Front of Barcelona for their importing business.

It’s also called Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House to honor its historical roots.

It was where the famous pirate and fugitive Jean Lafitte spoke with Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812.

Signage of the Old Absinthe House

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For the following 40 years, it served as a model "corner grocery," where food, Spanish liquor, and tobacco were bartered.

In 1815, the first floor was turned into a saloon famously called "Aleix’s Coffee House."

It was later renamed "The Absinthe Room" when Cayetano Ferrer, a mixologist, created the renowned Absinthe House Frappe in 1874.

By 1869, it began using the “Absinthe House," which has since become an iconic name and a peculiar change from the glamor of contemporary Bourbon Street.

Grab a Bite at Galatoire’s Restaurant

Exterior of Galatoire’s Restaurant

Infrogmation of New Orleans, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since 1905, Galatoire’s Restaurant has played a significant role in the culinary history of New Orleans.

Founded by Jean Galatoire, this legendary restaurant stands out from the other restaurants on Bourbon Street.

Its humble origins come from Pardies, a small village in France.

Interior of Galatoire’s Restaurant

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Jean Galatoire brought recipes and traditions from the family-style dining of his village to New Orleans.

The restaurant’s culinary traditions and reservation policies have remained unchanged throughout history.

Galatoire’s Restaurant has received numerous accolades for culinary excellence, such as the 2019 Forbes "New Orleans: The Big Easy’s Best Restaurants and Bargain Eateries" and the New York Times “Top 10 World’s Greatest Restaurants.”

Visit Cafe Lafitte in Exile

Exterior of Cafe Lafitte in Exile

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Cafe Lafitte in Exile is the country’s oldest gay bar.

It’s a must-visit if you’re into exciting and unique landmarks in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Cafe Lafitte in Exile opened in the building where Jean Lafitte headquartered his smuggling business in the 18th century (now known as Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop).

Since the end of Prohibition in 1933, Cafe Lafitte in Exile has constantly welcomed visitors.

Facade of Cafe Lafitte in Exile

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For example, the bar’s regular patrons were Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

It’s also popular with notable people, residents, and other visitors.

Cafe Lafitte in Exile is an excellent Bourbon Street hangout any day.

However, it’s unbeatable during Southern Decadence and Mardi Gras celebrations.

Join the Southern Decadence

Parade participants at the Southern Decadence

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The Southern Decadence is a six-day event held annually in New Orleans by the gay community during Labor Day Weekend.

The festival culminates in a parade through the French Quarter on the Sunday before Labor Day.

Generally speaking, the intersection of Bourbon Street and St. Ann Street is the heart of the gay community in New Orleans.

This idea becomes especially true during the weekend of the Southern Decadence.

People gathered at the Southern Decadence

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Southern Decadence started in 1972 with a group of about 50 people, both gay and straight, as a simple going-away celebration among friends.

Today, it’s one of the biggest annual celebrations and events in New Orleans, which became famous as the "Gay Mardi Gras."

The Southern Decadence often lasts through the night and includes activities like parades, parties, and more.

Parade dancers at the Southern Decadence

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Celebrate Mardi Gras

Parade float at the Mardi Gras celebration

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New Orleans’ Mardi Gras comprises one to three months of the streets coming alive with costumed revelers, art, and music.

There are many reasons to celebrate the Carnival season, and guests are welcome to join the festivities with the locals!

Enjoy the Mardi Gras traditions, from decades-old favorites like Zulu and Rex to new ones like the Krewe of Chewbacchus with Star Wars-inspired antics.

Marching band at the Mardi Gras celebration

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But there’s a lot more to Carnival than just catching beads while you’re in the city for Mardi Gras.

Learn more about the unique customs and history that have shaped the "Greatest Free Show on Earth" by visiting museums, landmarks, and restaurants.

Put on authentic Mardi Gras attire, board an actual float, and honor the creators and performers who make it all happen annually and for years to come.

People at the Mardi Gras celebration

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Savor Local Seafood at Bourbon House

Signage of Bourbon House

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Savor traditional New Orleans fare at Bourbon House, New Orleans’ premier seafood restaurant and oyster bar.

Local seafood is the centerpiece at Bourbon House, owned by Dickie Brennan and Company.

You won’t see it on the menu if it’s not in season!

The restaurant boasts a fun atmosphere with large windows that overlook Bourbon Street.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of oysters are served at Bourbon House.

However, rather than ending up in landfills, they use the leftover shells to rehabilitate the Gulf shoreline.

There’s more to Bourbon House than just a name.

It offers one of the nation’s most outstanding single-barrel and small-batch bourbon selections.

Likewise, it is home to the renowned New Orleans Bourbon Society.

Sing Karaoke at the World Famous Cat’s Meow

The World Famous Cat’s Meow has earned the title of Best Karaoke Club for over 25 years, not just in New Orleans but worldwide!

As a popular venue and neighborhood pub, the World Famous Cat’s Meow has earned adoration from visitors and locals.

They offer extravagant live entertainment, a lively atmosphere, and warm hospitality where the celebration never ends!

This iconic location has a small showroom, a warm courtyard, an upper floor with mezzanine views ideal for special parties, and a balcony facing Bourbon Street.

The World Famous Cat’s Meow specializes in corporate functions, birthday celebrations, and bachelorette parties.

Listen to Free Music at Musical Legends Park

Entrance arch of Musical Legends Park

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The French Quarter’s Musical Legends Park, in the heart of Bourbon Street, honors New Orleans’ illustrious musical and cultural history.

The park offers a cozy, private haven for locals and visitors who love music.

Musical Legends Park commemorates New Orleans’ musical legends, featuring several remembrance displays, plaques, and art pieces.

Life-sized bronze statues of musicians in the local scene are everywhere at the park.

Statues at Musical Legends Park

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See statues of Allen Toussaint, Al Hirt, Chris Owens, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, and more.

Musical Legends Parkalso offers a learning space for kids at three public schools in New Orleans, giving school children extra musical education and performance opportunities.

Artists are invited to perform for outdoor audiences, and admission is free to the public.

People at Musical Legends Park

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Listen to Jazz at Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub

Signage of Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub

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If you’re searching for excellent and traditional jazz, visit Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.

Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub is in an old 1831 building along Bourbon Street.

It is the oldest jazz club in New Orleans.

A clarinet player in Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub

Ishwar, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since it was founded in 1969, it has become a hotspot for jazz fans and performers.

Every night, Fritzel’s Jazz Band performs with the passion, vigor, and spontaneity people know them for.

Sing and dance the night away with jazz and drinks at Fritzel’s European Jazz Club, the “Home of Traditional New Orleans Jazz.”

Shop for Unique Gifts at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo

Signage of Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo

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Visit Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo to find unique and unusual items that will transport you to mystery and wonder.

Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo is a quaint shop on Bourbon Street that sells voodoo dolls, talismans, charms, spell kits, shirts, candles, tarot cards, jewelry, books, and oils.

They also give psychic readings on-site.

Exterior of Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo

Bart Everson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn about the history and the spiritual significance of this “religion” at the shop, both a shrine and a museum.

Open your mind for psychic reading or divination from their group of talented psychics, readers, mediums, and magicians.

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo is a must-visit location in New Orleans.

Try the Hand Grenade Cocktail at Tropical Isle

Signage of Tropical Isle

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Tropical Isle invented the famous “Hand Grenade” inventor during the 1984 World Fair.

Since then, it has become a mainstay in the New Orleans party scene.

A visit to the site of the city’s strongest yet sweetest cocktail is a must on any trip to the French Quarter.

Tropical Isle was rated by Where Y’at Readers Poll as the #1 Bar in the French Quarter.

Likewise, their Hand Grenade cocktail was featured on the television program "Drinking Made Easy."

Tropical Isle also features live performances every night, from Rock & Roll to Trop Rock Island to Cajun Zydeco.

Whatever your taste in music, you’ll find pieces that keep your feet moving while you sip one of their exquisite cocktails.

Stop by Tropical Isle and try a Hand Grenade.

You can also try famous drinks like the Horny Gator, Shark Attack, or Tropical Itch.

Meet New Friends at Pat O’Brien’s

Signage of Pat O'Brien’s

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Pat O’Brien’s isthe home of the famed Hurricane drink and is one of the best entertainment locations on Bourbon Street.

Since 1933, Pat O’Brien’s has welcomed visitors to the Main Bar, where framed photographs of loyal customers hang on walls.

Refurbished in the 1960s, the Main Bar exudes the ambiance of a neighborhood bar that caters to out-of-town and local patrons.

The 4,000-square-foot Patio reflects Southern Living and radiates the atmosphere of a laid-back party thrown in a neighbor’s backyard.

Patio of Pat O'Brien’s

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At the center stands Pat O’Brien’s iconic Flaming Fountain, made of copper and shaped like a champagne glass, featuring a dazzling flame amidst streams of water.

The Piano Lounge features two baby grand pianos where the “dueling pianos” show takes place, a concept where two pianists compete for the audience’s attention and tips.

Pat O’Brien’s modified this format to include audience participation through song requests.

Whichever of the three bars you decide to hang out at, Pat O’Brien’s should bring you plenty of fun with old friends and new.

Taste Local Cuisine at Olde Nola Cookery

Signage of Olde Nola Cookery

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Olde Nola Cookery is a vibrant and comfortable cajun and creole restaurant that offers a variety of local specialties in a cozy setting.

Olde Nola Cookery prepares food filled with flavors that the people of New Orleans know and love.

House specialties include seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee, BBQ shrimp, blackened redfish, cajun pasta, steak, ribs, salads, and desserts.

Their full-service bar serves a variety of wine, beer, and specialty drinks.

Come for lunch, dinner, or a quick bite as you rest your feet between strolls down Bourbon Street!

Olde Nola Cookery has two lovely balconies over Bourbon Street for parties and events.

Dance the Night Away at Oz New Orleans

Signage of Oz New Orleans

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Oz New Orleans is one of the most famous gay bars in New Orleans; it even claims to be the #1 gay dance club in Louisiana.

You can find it at the intersection of Bourbon Street and St. Ann Street, also called the Lavender Line.

It marks the start of Bourbon Street’s LGBTQ area, with numerous rainbow flags.

It’s a hip, late-night gay night club featuring DJs, drag shows, go-go dancers, RuPaul’s Drag Race weekly viewing parties, karaoke, and more.

Likewise, you can watch the annual Miss Oz New Orleans!

The atmosphere at Oz New Orleans is incredibly energetic and enjoyable; it is another must-visit on Bourbon Street.

Final Thoughts

Bourbon Street is one of the oldest streets in America, attracting thousands of tourists annually.

It’s an avenue with a fascinating past, home to some of the country’s oldest pubs, gay bars, and restaurants run by family generations.

May this list of the best things to do in Bourbon Street, New Orleans, bring you plenty of surprises.

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